St. Thomas, a patron for the ages

Father John A. Kiley

St. Thomas is mentioned in all four Biblical references to the twelve apostles. Matthew 10, Mark 3 and Luke 6, as well as Acts, 1 find St. Thomas faithfully listed among Christ’s dearest disciples even though these books were written decades after St. Thomas himself had moved on from Jerusalem. Although the fourth Gospel account by St. John does not list the twelve apostles as these other writings do (in fact, St. John never uses the word “apostle”), he recalls St. Thomas quite personally by informing the reader that this man Thomas was nick-named Didymus, a Greek word meaning twin. Thomas itself, for that matter, is actually the Aramaic word for twin.

Apart from the Bible’s recollections, St. Thomas is remembered for his travels outside the Mediterranean world to preach the Gospel even as far as India. According to tradition, the apostle reached the coast of India about 52 A.D., and baptized several people who are today known variously as Nasranis or Malabar or Malankara Christians. While these St. Thomas Christians have been splintered somewhat over the centuries, a good number still pledge allegiance to the Church at Rome.

Anecdotal evidence reports that after his death, the reputed relics of Saint Thomas were enshrined in Syria in the 3rd century. In 1258, some of these relics were brought to Italy’s Abruzzo province, just east of Rome, and enshrined in the Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle. He is obviously regarded as the patron saint of India. The name Thomas remains quite popular among the Christians of India.

Besides his listing with the other twelve apostles in the synoptic Gospels and in Acts, St. Thomas appears three times in the Gospel account of St. John. Sadly the most celebrated memory of St. Thomas is the post-resurrection encounters between St. Thomas and Christ that has given St. Thomas the added but misleading nickname “doubting Thomas.” St. John reveals how St. Thomas was skeptical at first when told that Jesus had appeared to the other apostles, saying “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” When Jesus appears again the following week and permits St. Thomas to see and to touch his wounds, St. Thomas declares his belief by proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” an act of faith that summarizes and celebrates all the preceding acts of faith that constitute St. John’s Gospel account: St. John the Baptist, Nathaniel, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, the royal official, St. Martha, and St. Peter. St. Thomas’ profession of faith is truly climactic, summarizing in five words the whole message of the fourth Gospel account.

In this coming Sunday’s Gospel narrative, again St. John presents the reader with another instance in which St. Thomas and Jesus address one another personally. During the Last Supper, Jesus is explaining that he is going away to prepare a heavenly home for his followers, and that one day they will join him there. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” This teaching from Christ occurs before his death, resurrection and ascension so St. Thomas understandably reacts by saying, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus majestically responds, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Knowing Jesus, believing Jesus, accepting Jesus is way; there is no other route.

St. Thomas, however, is most eloquent and most deserving of the respect and admiration of the ages when he urges his fellow disciples to share the destiny of Christ. Christ’s friend Lazarus had just died and the apostles are apprehensive about returning to Bethany in Judea where some Jews had attempted to stone Jesus. St. Thomas pledges boldly, “Let us also go and, if needs be, die with him.”

These indeed are the words of St. Thomas that should be recalled most often. His doubts and his questions aside, his courage should be the memory the mention of this Apostle evokes.